The Land of the Sky and Beyond

Excerpt from The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey, which describes the train ride from Old Fort to Asheville, through the headwaters of the Catawba.

The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey 1The Southern Railway, that superb and colossal corporation whose tracks grid-iron the region south of Washington, has brought Asheville and its contiguous region to within a short distance of New York, for indeed the traveler may leave the metropolis after the day is nearly done and be transported by their magnificent "Southwest Limited" to Asheville about noon the next day.

And what a ride!--down past the Nation's capital, across the Old Dominion, Virginia, whose almost every inch has been consecrated to history by the blood of contending armies, and entering North Carolina "where armies ' ceaseless tread" wore broad paths in the fertile soil a generation ago. At Salisbury the Asheville train leaves the main stem, which continues on to Atlanta, and, like the "Course of Empire," wends its way to the westward. At Old fort a brief stop is made to attach the second or pilot engine, before giving battle to the giant mountains which, stretching directly across the path, challenge the mighty power of steam. It is a battle royal when the ponderous locomotives begin the ascent, the second in point of grade in all America, a struggle in which the strength of Nature is pitted against the inventions of man. With throttles wide open and the steam-gauges showing their maximum the ascent begins. Up and up creeps the train, slowly and surely winding in and out, like the tracings of a huge serpent, passing the colossal piles of granite between which the sparkling Catawba River dashes merrily on its race from mountain to sea, then around the face of a gigantic wall of rock, over chasms so deep as to make one dizzy, and again clinging to the very edge of the mountain-side. Below one-far below--is the peaceful valley, walled in on the opposite The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey 2 side by the mountains, whose slopes are clothed to the very dome with balsams and giant pines, interspersed with huge masses of rhododendron and azaleas near the valley's line. Beyond Round Knob, where a brief stop is made, the ascent becomes bolder and more tortuous. Around and around the great train creeps, doubting on itself several times, as if looking for some crevice through which it might dodge and evade the summit. So tortuous has been its movements that from one point the track below over which the train has come may be seen on fourteen different grades. The sun beams into the windows on one side of the car, and almost before the train has measured its length, it is shining in those opposite, and if Brother Jasper should make the trip he would ever after maintain that "De sun do move, suh."
"I have traveled two continents," said a companion of the writer on his recent trip, "and have never seen from car window a more magnificent spectacle." As the summit is reached, the eye takes in range after range of mountains, following one after the other like the giant waves of old ocean racing for the beach. Silvery waterfalls come tumbling down the mountain-sides so close as to almost dampen the train with their spray, and whichever way the eye may turn a new and entrancing scene of mingled grandeur and loveliness greets it.  At last the great tunnel which pierces the summit is reached, and the descent begins. The watershed of the Atlantic is left and that of the Gulf of Mexico entered. The panorama has been shifted.

Excerpt from The Land of the Sky and Beyond (1895 ?) by Frank Presbrey

Return to Post-Civil War History of the Catawba-Wateree Basin

Document Actions
Help Catawba Riverkeeper

Your River needs you as much as you need the River

Support Our River

Help in other ways

Jan 25, 2017 NC Riverkeeper Report
From the perspectives of 12 NC Riverkeepers, this report discusses how multiple environmental issues pose challenges in the pursuit of clean, plentiful water. Whether you are in North Carolina or downstream in South Carolina, read this report about the state of environmental enforcement.
Dec 13, 2016 Community Foundation of Gaston County grants $5,000 to CRF for Riverkeeper Program
The Community Foundation will fund Catawba Riverkeeper's work in Gaston County.
Dec 12, 2016 A Successful Launch of our Water Education Program at Great Falls Elementary
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in partnership with 4-H Clemson Cooperative Extension successfully completed our pilot Education Outreach Program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from Great Falls Elementary.
Sep 27, 2016 Lake Wateree Fall Cleanup a Sweeping Success
86 volunteers collected 5,490 pounds of trash from Lake Wateree
Jun 13, 2016 Dozens of Youth Reached in Water Education Outreach Program Pilot Lessons
More news…
Report Pollution in the Catawba River

Help protect your River! 

Tell your Riverkeeper if you see:

  • Sewage Overflows
  • Failure to control sediment from construction sites
  • Illegal clearing of buffer areas
  • Fish kills 
  • Unpermitted discharges
  • Other issues that concern you

Click here to fill out a pollution report or to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)


The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a proud member of EarthShare North Carolina, the North Carolina Conservation Network, River Network and the Waterkeeper Alliance.  It also in in an alliance with Clean Air Carolina to address issues, such as sprawl, that cause air and water problems.

Clean Air / Clean Water Alliance Logo

NC Conservation Network Logo


EarthShare of North Carolina Logo


4-H Clover leaf logo


River Network Logo


SC 4H Science on the Move logo



715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559